A historic hydroelectric dam on Mission's Stave River is getting a major facelift. Even as crews work to rebuild the structure almost entirely, the Ruskin Dam is still operating at two-thirds capacity and pumping electricity into the BC Hydro grid.
The upgrade is being done at a cost of $748 million over a six-year period, to be completed in 2018.
It is the first significant renovation on the 85-year-old dam. The seven old spillway gates, which control the flow of water through the dam, will become five wider gates. The massive cement piers that held up Hayward Street directly over the dam have been deconstructed block by block. Brand new towers will hold up a much wider road and allow for two-lane, two-way traffic atop the dam. Pedestrians will enjoy a new walkway.
When construction began on the dam in 1929, it was "built right," said BC Hydro senior construction manager Robert Peever.
"It was state of the art at the time," he said. "It really took some neat engineering solutions to be able to do it."
The Stave River proved so productive for generating hydroelectric power that the Ruskin Dam was stationed at a narrow gorge less than 6 km downstream of the Stave Falls Dam, completed 17 years prior. The Ruskin Dam created the Hayward Lake Reservoir, used as a recreational destination today.
The dam is named after the small community of Ruskin, which was initially founded by John Ruskin in the mid-1800s. The philosopher and writer tried to create an arts and farming commune but that fell apart within a few years. What did last the test of time is the name to the community, and later to the dam.
The dam now needs major seismic upgrades, which will allow it to withstand an earthquake that occurs once in 10,000 years, according to BC Hydro.
"They didn't plan for earthquakes back then," explained Peever.
In addition to the rebuilding of the spillway piers, the powerhouse's interior and exterior are being reconstructed. The large switchyard that sits atop the powerhouse roof will be moved to a more secure location a few hundred feet away. The three power generating units inside will eventually be replaced with higher efficiency ones.
The construction has created several hundred temporary jobs at the site.
When completed, the dam will provide enough electricity to power 33,000 homes and will last, Peever hopes, another three-quarters of a century.
Despite all the changes, what will remain constant is that one lightbulb near the floor of the control room at Ruskin Dam. Possibly the oldest lightbulb in B.C., it has given off a continuous low voltage orange-yellow light since the dam started operating in 1930.
(Photo below: BC Hydro senior construction manager Robert Peever is supervising the Ruskin Dam reconstruction. / Credit: Alina Konevski, Abbotsford News.)
(Photo below: The switchyard on top of the powerhouse (pictured) is being moved a few hundred feet up the hill to a more secure location during the Ruskin Dam upgrade. / Credit: Alina Konevski, Abbotsford News.)